I am the Queen of the Issy Alps 100! At least that is what good friend Tracy Brown calls me. Maybe it is fitting. After all, I have the most finishes, completing 3 out of 4 tries, the first person to do the downhill and uphill routes.
It all started 3 years ago when George Orozco put together an amazing route starting at Mailbox Peak and ending in the Issy Alps at Tiger. The first year, George, me, and Deby Kumasaka tried to complete the 100 mile, and a bunch of other people were attempting the 50K and 100K. Because of heavy snow the night before the event, there were no 100K and 100 mile finishers. We were all humbled by the course and too wasted to continue up to Rattlesnake Ridge, where more snow was waiting. Except for John Barrickman, who wanted to continue but no one wanted to go with him. George, Deby, and I got a ride to Tiger and tried to put together at least 100K, but we bailed at about 45 miles. That was in May 2013.
Deby and I decided that we would try again over the July 4th weekend that same year. We had a lot of great pacers and crew but the pacing duty that she did for Jonathan Shark at one of the hottest Western States less than a week before caught up with her and she had to stop at 100K. Being the tough and generous gal that she is, she crewed me the last 35 miles and Tracy Brown paced me. Even though Deby could not complete it with me, it was a magical run with fireworks throughout the night and amazing company of crew and pacers, who met us all along the way. You can read my full report in an earlier post.
The next person to complete the Issy 100 was Ras Jason Vaughan. He did it unsupported in wintry conditions. Such an amazing feat because I know how hard it is with support. Then it was Jennifer Hughes, who did it in the exact same time as I did, so we shared the FKT for a while.
I again ran it on the July 4th weekend in 2014 with Jess Mullen and Deb McInally. Leni Karr completed the 100K and has the FKT for that. George also completed the 100K but since he set out to do the 100 mile, he did not get credit for it. We improved on the FKT by 2 hours, but Jess and Deb could have completed it sooner. They were nice enough to wait for my dragging butt. Again, we had amazing pacing and crew support. So much so that we dubbed it the Sissy Issy because we didn’t have to carry heavy packs for the entire 100. There is a race report for that, too.
George attempted the 100 again a few months later, but rain dampened his success and he got very cold in the higher elevations. He was wise to save it for another day. Tim and Angel Mathis completed the 100K in 2014 as well.
All this time, there had been talk about doing the Issy 100 in reverse. I think Matt Hagen, in all his strangeness, came up with the idea first. He also wanted to be the first one to do it, but work and life got in the way. We decided that we would do it together this year and set the date. I again got together stellar pacers and crew, not as much as the Sissy, but just as critical. I crossed my fingers that the weather would be nice enough to be comfortable. It is always a gamble to run in April. Sure enough, snow dumped in the mountains a week before our attempt but it warmed up enough that most of it melted, except for on Teneriffe. The weather during the run was absolutely perfect. Temps ranged from the low 40s to upper 60s. I am a hot runner, so this was great, although I still overheated. The nice thing about running this early in the year also is that there is not much brushy overgrowth, which is miserable in July. What we did have were spider webs-lots of them! I prepared as much as I could before this run. It’s not something that you just do and hope that everything comes together. I ran the Gorge Waterfall 100K and 50K double to train time on the feet and running fatigued. I still have not figured out the perfect combination of water and salt, but worked on that the best that I could before the Issy. I sent multiple e-mails to my minions, went out with Jeff Forister the weekend before to place a rope across the Raging River, and dropped water at 4 locations. I dropped off a large cooler at Leni’s house Thursday morning with hopefully all the stuff I would need for day 2. I didn’t race after the Gorge and did easier and shorter runs. I dropped 5-6 pounds because I didn’t want to carry extra weight for 106 miles. I was ready.
Ken dropped me off that the Lower Parking lot at Tiger where we met Matt, who would have his car there when we went through it again. We packed enough food for 22 miles. I kissed Ken goodbye and we jogged up the dirt road to the upper parking. We had started at 6:02 am. Things felt easy and pleasant in the beginning because it was still cool. The Brink Trail was the only real challenge in the beginning. It is very technical, but on fresh legs, not so bad. At the end of the downhill version of the Issy, it is torture. We had a short 3 miles on Tiger before Front Street and Sycamore Lane on our way up to Squak. Up and over Squak (not to the summit) 5.4 miles. We arrived at the Cougar-Squak connector just under 2 hours, 30 minutes ahead of my predicted, but it was not because we were pushing the pace. I just overestimated the time it would take to get there. I am familiar with how long it would take at the end of 100 miles, but with fresh legs, clearly we were moving better. We did have to wait about 5 minutes to cross SR 900 because of the morning commute traffic. I had dropped water off at the connector and I refilled. I was trying to avoid eating gels early on and was fueling myself with Costco Blueberry Muffins (almost 700 calories per muffin), potstickers, and Jimmy John sub sandwiches. I would take one gel every 2 hours in the first half of the run.
We finished the Cougar loop also about 30 minutes faster than predicted. Now we were an hour ahead of schedule. Matt kept having to text Betsy and tell her that she needed to get moving to be there in time for our meet up. We went back up and over Squak in the time predicted-1 ½ hrs. We met her at mile 22 at the Issaquah High School Tiger Parking at 11:30 am, 5 ½ hours into our run, one hour ahead of predicted. She had amazing fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce. I stuffed myself with 2 and I think Matt had 4! It kept me fueled for quite a while up the next section of Tiger of 13.1 miles. I changed into another pack but didn’t like it as much. I knew I wanted to change back at the next stop.
It was getting warm now and the climb up One View and Poo Poo was fatiguing. We made it to Upper Bootleg towards Tiger 1 and went above the blow downs. This slowed us enough that we were getting back on schedule. We stopped briefly on Tiger 1 for a pic and then pressed on. We made our way to T2 and T3, then the long descent to the lower parking. We took the trail down this time from upper to lower parking where Vivian was waiting with McDs hamburger, fries, and milkshake as requested. The milkshake was amazing. I drank all of that. I saved the hamburger for the trail. I couldn’t eat the fries for some reason. I think they were too dry for me, but in the past I was able to. I brushed my teeth for the second time (I tried to do this every 20 miles) and we were off again! Vivian had ice water, which was much needed and had all kinds of other food, like oranges, salt tabs, gels, and apple sauce.
We said hi to a few tent city people as we headed to the High Point trail. Then it was just up and up and up. This was really tough because I never go in this direction and it seemed to last longer than I expected. Plus, we got off trail and added on about 1 mile or 15-20 minutes. Once we got to East Tiger Trail, I was starting to feel better. There is a new section of the East Tiger Trail and it is longer than the old one. Matt suggested that we try to find the old one but I wanted to keep the route the same as I had done before. The whole time we were running, Matt was cold and I was hot. So when we popped out of the trail onto the dirt road up the East Tiger Summit, I suggested that he sit in the sun while I made the short out and back to the peak. He had already decided that he was only going to take me to Highway 18 as promised then stop. He had run a sub 21 hour at Umstead 100 three weeks before and paced Betsy at Lumberjack 50 miles the weekend before this run. His body needed some downtime but he was kind enough to suffer through nearly 50 miles with me.
We arrived at Highway 18 back on schedule after getting off trail, which was 46 miles and 12 hours 25 minutes. Ken was waiting there with my Yoda, my 8 ½ month pit bull.
I was so happy to see them! Ken brought pizza and coke. Also, George, Jenn, and Jeff were there. Everyone except for Jenn was drinking beer. George let me know that he went out that morning to check out Teneriffe for me. He tried on Thursday but turned around. It was so nice of him to go out again and mark the trail! At that point, I said goodbye to Matt. He got a ride back to his car from Ken, which was good because then he could pick up my bags in Matt’s car. I switched to my Salomon pack including my spikes and poles, in case there was now on Rattlesnake. I also carried an extra Ultimate Scott Jurek pack because I forgot to put it into my drop at Leni’s house. Bottom line, I was carrying a lot.
I ate a piece of pizza (probably should have had 2) and packed one to go, which I nibbled at later but didn’t really finish. But I was actually feeling better at that point. Probably because it was getting cooler and my body really liked that. Now it was Jenn, her dog Nellie, Jeff, and I. We ran into a bunch of mountain bikers since this is their territory. They were all really nice. A few miles of single track, then the service road, and then unmaintained trails down to the Raging River. It was about 7:30 at this point and still light out. That was nice so that we could still see the rocks that we were stepping on in the river. And having the rope was a bonus. My legs were pretty worked and I didn’t want to submerge trying to cross, like Nellie!
We were able to travel about another 40 minutes before we donned our headlamps at about 8 pm when we went into the woods and everything became dark. Finally made it to the Rattlesnake trail, where there was another water drop. Leni had gone out earlier in the morning to scope out the snow and texted me that traction was not needed. This was wonderful, because that would have been very slow going. I continued to eat and drink well enough to keep a decent pace. It was nice having Jenn and Jeff’s company. They kept the conversation going and I just listened. This is how I prefer it. I allotted 7 hours from Highway 18 to Rattlesnake, but it was looking like 5 hours. I texted Deby that I would be arriving at Little Si earlier than expected. I had dropped water off at the lake end but Kathleen was meeting us with soup. I was glad she was there so I could hand her the water and not have to make a special trip out to retrieve after finishing. Kathleen arrived just a minute or so before we got there. OMG-timing could not have been more perfect. She had hot baked potato soup and bread. That was really good. She brought her daughters. It was 11:30 pm. I had put on a thin shell at this point in case I got cold, which I did when we stopped, but for the most part, I spent the evening running in shorts and T-shirt.
We headed down the Snoqualmie Valley Trail towards Leni’s house. It was 2 ½ miles to her house and we ran the entire way. She had placed little pigs on glow in the dark clothes pin on the trail foliage that went to her house.
When we had met the day before, we decided where the cooler was going to be placed. I grabbed a bunch of food, extra clothing, drank some coke, and changed my shoes and socks, which at that point was really nice because my feet were starting to swell in my narrower Salomon Fellraisers. The Missions had more toe space and they were happier. Got back on the trail and ran to the overpass next to the road. After crossing the road, ran again to Mt. Si road. So we were making good time and when we arrived at Little Si trailhead, Deby had not arrived yet, but they were just about there. Deby’s son Myc dropped her off and drove Jenn and Jeff back to their cars at Hwy 18. We got there at around 1 am. My targeted time was 3 am.
I got cold from stopping and drinking another milkshake. Again, I could not eat the fries. I packed my hamburger for later and ate a couple of chicken nuggets. I had also asked for 2 apple pies, but they only had one. That tasted really good later and went down well. I was shivering by the time Deby and I left, so I packed a bunch of extra cloths, food, and even Jenn’s shell. I was wearing just about everything when we left, but ½ a mile up the trail, I was overheating and had to strip down to my T-shirt. I never got cold for the rest of the run, even when we were at 5000 ft on Teneriffe with snow all around and a light breeze. I had capris on over my shorts. Initially, I started out with poles but soon found that I didn’t need them and they were getting in my way of eating. The climb to Little Si and back was uneventful. It was the next climb up the back side of Mt. Si that just about killed me. The pace up Little Si was a little swift so I knew I needed to slow it down for this climb and it was a good thing I did. I would have worn myself out if I pushed it up those 4 miles to the base of Haystack. The pace was perfect for Deby since she had just run Lumberjack 100 the weekend before. She has paced me in so many of my adventures, it feels natural and normal to have her by my side.
Finally, we peaked out and headed down. I took it easy, because I can wear myself out on downhill running too, especially if it is technical. I know a lot of people recover on the downhill, but I do not. Two miles later, we were at the Talus loop trail and I looked for the water that I had stashed the previous weekend. I looked everywhere and I could not find it. I put it behind a tree next to a creek where water was flowing down. I wonder if the heavy rain washed it down and someone might have picked it up. Needless to say, I didn’t refill but Deby said she had plenty of water. I was drinking less at that point because I was peeing regularly moderate amounts. I realized later that the gels were making me pee so in fact, I was becoming dehydrated more and more. We arrived at the Talus trail about 5:30 am, or 23 ½ hours. It was still a little dark when I stubbed my right big toe against a rock. That sent a zinger to my big toe joint, the most painful thing I did during the entire run. I ran/walked it out and it took about 10 minutes to calm down. That toe is going to be the end of my running someday I think. It is my weak link.
We made it to the Teneriffe service road. It was just getting light. We were able to take off our headlamps about 30 minutes up the road. That was nice to get it off my head but just made my pack heavier. I wasn’t eating enough of my food to lighten the load. We normally run down this road, but I did do it once uphill in training during our reverse 50K (Little Si to Mailbox). It was so much harder now than before. We did see a gorgeous sunrise and amazing views of Rainier.
Fortunately the road eases up after 2-3 miles but that was when we started to encounter snow. We put on our spikes and traction was better but the surface was uneven from previous users, so it was a lot of work to get through this area. Poles helped to stabilize you but the back and knees were getting a beating. Just as I was becoming despondent that we weren’t getting anywhere, I turned a corner and saw George’s signage “Issy Alps à” Oh George! Thank you! It just made me smile and I was excited to show Deby.
After this, it was another slow mile through the snow. Again an eternity to get to the peak. We sat down briefly to get a pic and descended. We saw one guy reaching the peak as we headed down, then no one else for a while.
The descent was easier on the lungs but harder on the legs. So steep and slippery. The spikes really made a difference. By now, my mouth was pretty dry from all the heavy breathing. I was still fooled that I was hydrated because I was peeing, but I was probably pretty dehydrated. We stopped to eat some real food. Deby gave me a veggie pizza slice and I ate most of that. We decided to take off our spikes. We had left them on for a long time after the snow was gone because they still helped with traction in the mud. I was concerned that we were not on the right trail but Deby confirmed on her phone that we were and after a few more steps down, Leni called out to us. We had received a text that she was on her way up with food and water after learning that I had no water at my last drop.
Another half mile and we were down on the main trail, which is very technical still if you have ever been on it. It seemed like I was tumbling down the trail but still able to stay upright. Next thing you know, here comes George. He was getting bored waiting for us down at the cars. So the 4 of us trotted down the trail, which again was longer than I remembered it and so very rocky. Encountered many more people out to see the Kamikaze/Teneriffe falls.
Finally reached the service road, so another 1.6+ miles to the cars. DNR or someone has been doing a lot of work on the Teneriffe road, narrowing it to make it look more like a trail. We arrived at Teneriffe trailhead about 11 am (29 hours), still about ½ hour ahead of my schedule, but I had lost a lot of my cushion from traveling in the snow. At least I still felt pretty good. Leni was there and so was Chris Fagan. They had everything laid out for me and I could just pick and choose what I needed. I am glad I carried my Ultimate pack overnight to put in the drop cooler. So great to get my heavy pack off me. Leni had watermelon, popsicles, pizza, cold coke, and more. I ate what I could. I changed clothes. New sports bra, shirt, underwear, and shorts. I felt like a new woman when we left and thanked everyone for all their help. Myc was there to take Deby to work. She had some work to do that day! What an amazing woman. I had spent about 15 minutes there and we left at 11:15 am.
We headed up the road to the CCC trail. The last time we were here was during the reverse 50K training run. We had been chased down by a very angry man who lived on that road. He was chasing us in his road grater yelling, “Get off this road, this is a private road!!!” Turns out he has dementia. Leni had talked to Deb McInally who knows a woman who lives on that road too and she talked to Eric, the guy with dementia. So hopefully he was not going to bother us. We made it to the gate without seeing him and I breathed a sigh of relief. We hiked up to the top of the hill then ran the 2 miles to the trail turn off. I felt light and springy and was sure that I was running about 9 minute miles. Then I looked at my Garmin after running a mile and it showed that my “fast” mile was only 10:40. Just shows you how altered your view of things are after so many miles.
George led the whole way, and I was thankful because there was a ton of spider webs across the trail, usually about face level. I still felt good and moved along well. We encountered a black bear just before we got to the Middle Fork road and Snoqualmie River. George had spotted his paw prints well before we saw him. I’m sure the bear could smell me from miles away. It was getting pretty warm now but fortunately, when we were in the trails, it was pleasant. I was able to hike up that steep trail to the Green Mountain trail strong. George was amazed to find that it was not in good as a shape as when we were on it last. That might have been due to the heavy rains the weekend before. Everyone thinks there is only one more big climb after Teneriffe-Mailbox. But there are very steep sections in this part of the run. The next three miles are gradual downhill, winding, sometimes rocky single track. I had pushed the pace too hard leading up to this point and I was starting to fade. I should have been able to enjoy this section and cruise it, but I was tired and wobbly. Again, it seemed endless.
I arrived at Mailbox earlier than expected and Leni had to speed in just in time to see me. Actually, I had only been there for about 3 minutes when she arrived. I got there at 2 pm (32 hours)-the last section taking me 2 hours and 45 minutes, compared to the 4-5 hours that I had allotted. Leni had brought 2 milkshakes. I drank the chocolate one and George had strawberry. I tried to eat some real food but was unable. Leni had some grilled cheese, but it did not seem appealing to me. Looking back, I should have tried to eat some of it. I loaded my pack up with gels, Power Wafers, and took a bag of Cheetos. Jeff came back to help me finish with George. I thanked Leni for all her help and we started to climb up the steep hill. I didn’t bring my poles because I didn’t want to carry the extra weight and needed my hands to eat. There were still a lot of people out hiking Mailbox and I was passed easily by all of them.
It became clear as I was trying to make my way up Mailbox that this was going to take me a really long time. I had not packed a headlamp, thinking I would be done well before dark. With each step, I became more nauseous, so low on calories and so hard to take more in. I tried to eat a gel, but you know how that goes when you’re nauseous. Plus, it was making me pee a lot and I kept getting weaker. Jeff had Ensure with him and let me have that. It helped. I started to move up the mountain better. It took almost 3 hours to get to the top, but when Jess and I had done it a couple weeks before with more snow, it took us 2 hours so I was not feeling too bad about myself yet. I even passed 4 people on that last scramble up to the Mailbox. One guy looked so bad, he just plopped down and looked totally spent. I think he was taken down by ATV by Search and Rescue, who were there in the upper parking when we finished. They made the new MB trail wide enough to fit an ATV. That ride alone would be scary I would think. My goal for the entire weekend was to avoid using Search and Rescue.
We sat briefly before descending. There were a lot of people still on the peak. I think they all took the new trail down because I was not passed by a lot of people on the descent, even though I was moving at a snail’s pace. I had my spikes on for the short section of snow and mud and kept them on for better traction downhill because at this point, my quads stopped working. Halfway down that rocky scramble, I became pretty wobbly and had to borrow Jeff’s pole. Then I had to grab a stick for the other side to balance myself out. I had to take deliberate steps every time there was a drop. There was no reprieve from the steep descent. Really, very few sections where it leveled out. I was whining and insecure, but Jeff and George kept encouraging me, telling me what an amazing thing I was doing, and trying to get me to see the bright side of things. I had to stop and lean back on a tree a few times, but I had to get moving because the sun was going down. At least my muscles were not twitching. The likelihood that I would just have a full blown cramp was not as great, and that was reassuring. I have experienced full blown cramping of all my muscles in my legs before (in my first 100 mile with 95 degree temps) and it was the most painful thing I had ever experienced. Finally, after many “false bottoms,” we arrive at the old trail trailhead. Now just the hike down to the lower parking. No sprinting in to the finish. Just a slow and shuffling end. Ken was there with Yoda, who came screaming towards me and I was worried he was going to knock me over. But I was so thrilled to see him and Ken.
Ken had cold beers for Jeff and George and a cold coke for me. Surprisingly, I was able to change without cramping and get in the car right away to drive George to his van. Usually, I need about an hour for my legs to scrunch into a car. We met Leni out at the truck stop area. I got all my stuff back. She had brought George’s van there. Such amazing help. I mustered a weak thank you and Ken whisked me away towards home. On the way, we stopped and got some Taco Time. When we got home, I ate one Taco, a few Mexi-fries, and some water. I took a nice hot shower and went to bed. Normally, I cannot get comfortable enough to fall asleep but this time, I passed out. I had to get up to pee in the middle of the night and had planned on getting something to eat, but that would have meant going down the stairs and I just didn’t have the energy to do that. So I went back to bed and had a good night’s rest.
Today, three days after finishing, I feel pretty good. The tightness in my calves has improved. The nerve pain in my feet are better. I feel more rested. I was feeling really down on myself on Mailbox, thinking I was such a loser to take 6 hours to do that up and down. It negated what an incredible first 100 miles I had run, which included about 32,000 feet of elevation gain I think. I would say total elevation for the run was 36,000 feet with Mailbox and the entire run was 106 miles. This is definitely a classic and if you want to do it, I can give you all kinds of advice. For all those that helped me, I am ready to pace or crew you when you want to attempt it yourself!